We thought it might be useful to document the process of starting an online business from scratch.
Jim Coudal and Steve Delahoyde will periodically post here about issues involving our
product and business plan. Hopefully things will go well but even if the whole thing goes down in flames,
it’ll probably be interesting to watch.
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We get a little weak in the knees every time we run across someone using Jewelboxing for some form of entrepreneurial outlet. Maybe it's because it reminds us a little of ourselves from way back when, launching a new company and hoping people would like what we were offering. So maybe it's a little like that movie Pay It Forward but not nearly as schmaltzy and definitely without that kid from The Sixth Sense. Whatever the case, we were fortunate to get to talk to Jennifer Diaz, founder of the design firm Force Nine, about her recent foray into the great unknown that is a product launch, a sort of "build your own baby book" collection of forms for season scrapbookers and the uninitiated alike called EveryBaby. We were so enjoying talking to Jennifer and the uniqueness of her product that we thought "Hey, we should do a Case Study about this!" and thus, here we are.
1. Can you tell us a about yourself?
I went to design school in the early 1980s, when everything was still done by hand. I was always drawn to the history of art and design as well and my master's thesis, in modern art history, was a comparison of several early twentieth-century graphic designers. I worked for a short time at the Getty Trust in Los Angeles, where I lived with an illuminated manuscripts scholar, grew to love artists' books, learned basic bookbinding skills, and began writing for Print and other design magazines. All of this is relevant to the EveryBaby book project in one way or another.
2. What's the EveryBaby Memory Book Pages project?
EveryBaby pages are PDF-formatted components for building customized memory books. What is unique about the EveryBaby system is that you print only the pages that you select, in the quantities that you need, on your choice of paper. You can then bind the pages in any number of ways, along with additional photographs, documents and other memorabilia.
3. What inspired you to create it? Making books for your own children? Some other product out there that you thought just wasn't quite doing everything?
I started seriously thinking about creating a flexible baby book system when my sister adopted her then nearly 2-year old son. Around the same time, her gay neighbors adopted two children, a never-married sister had a child, and a friend became pregnant through a sperm bank. I was also doing pro-bono design work for a group dedicated to kids with cerebral palsy, who each had their own individualized lists of developmental milestones. Nearly all of the baby books available were hopelessly inadequate for all of these families, and it occurred to me that it was almost insulting to expect these parents to slice up traditional books.
I also had my own daughter eight years ago and settled on a baby book with little John Lennon animal drawings. The pages were so shiny that I had to use a Sharpie to fill in the data and there never seemed to be space for the type of information that I wanted to record, such as details of her many music classes, mysterious allergic reactions, and four years of preschool.
4. Did you design all of the 160 PDFs the package comes with? How long did that take you?
The entire process took about seven years, which has actually turned out to be a good thing. By shelving the project for months at a time, I was able to re-imagine it several times. Initially, I had planned to offset print and package the pages by chapter and sell them to retail shops via the big NY trade shows, with a start-up cost of about $16,000. It took some time (years, in fact) to realize that I would still not be addressing the fundamental issue, which is the ability to choose one page at a time while assembling a book. While I was endlessly contemplating all of this, the PDF file format became more mainstream and Etsy was launched, leading me to develop a much more comprehensive and economical product than I could have conceived of seven years earlier.
I chose many of the actual page design elements fairly early in the process, however, including Engraverís Bold, Aldus, Bickham Script and Lo-Type for text, plus an assortment of dingbats and ornaments for borders. I probably ran 20 laser and inkjet-printer tests on the dashed lines alone.
5. Did you have some sort of system developed for how you thought each form should be organized? It's a ton of information to keep track of, so it seems like you'd need to think out the flow of each page, to make it accessible.
During the first few years, I worked on the text in Word. This enabled me to really focus on grouping information into pages that could be opted out of as a unit. I didn't even begin designing the chapters until I had locked in the precise contents of each page. The most difficult section was probably the "firsts," which are usually just a long laundry list in conventional baby books. I separated them into logical, Montessori-ish classifications, such as Practical Life, Communication, Fine Motor Skills, etc., and left room for anecdotes and lists where appropriate. When I finally started laying out the pages in InDesign, it was fairly easy going, but I still continued to edit. During the final phase, I hired a professional copy-editor/proofreader to read through the entire collection of pages.
6. Speaking as someone who has absolutely no experience with this, once a person has the disc and they've been printing their pages and putting everything together, do you have any recommendations on how to assemble a great baby book?
The best, and least stressful, approach is to assemble several books. For example, the pregnancy, birth and adoption sections have a finite timeframe, so they can be printed, completed and bound first. The "All About You" section will take many years to compile and should therefore have a dedicated box for the storage of calendars, notes, and scraps of information. Alternately, a four-page birthday party section can be filled in during the party and added to a birthdays-only book. At an early age, kids can take over filling out their own pages for the school memory book -- and in case of disaster, the pages can be reprinted. The family tree and parentsí sections are probably the lowest priority for overwhelmed parents, but can be an easy weekend project at any point over the years, and are easily duplicated for each childís individual book. Finally, as the overriding goal of any memory book is a long shelf life, I highly recommend the museum-quality storage boxes, sleeves and binders available from Light Impressions.
7. Although I've gotten better over the years after countless moves and getting tired of hauling boxes around, I come from a long line of hoarders of stuff that holds sentimental value. So for people like me, do you think having something more organized and guided like your printable sheets will help? Any advice on what's good to keep and what's best to just toss?
I think all artists and creative people are hoarders. The trick is to hoard in a semi-organized fashion and then allow the passage of time to dictate what can be tossed. One of my most memorable experiences at the Getty was getting a first look at boxes of Jan Tschichold's personal papers, which had just been purchased but not yet catalogued. Despite all his rules about the organization of the page, Tschichold's personal files were a fantastic mess of personal letters, sketches and printed ephemera from virtually every significant designer. He clearly saved everything, but items were fairly well sorted into folders and boxes. The Getty staff took his efforts one step further by slipping things into archival sleeves and entering critical dates and information into accessible databases. This is essentially what parents do when assembling memory books. It's an organic process - and the EveryBaby pages give you a framework in which to document that process.
8. In an age where a lot of the memories you keep are now online, from photos to home movies, there's something very comforting about printing things, filling them out with a pen, attaching photos, etc. What is it about getting to work with these bits and pieces of memory by hand?
Most early art, even on cave walls and papyrus, was associated with personal memories. Illuminated manuscripts were basically scrapbooks, with groups of unrelated pages bound together, family members painted into biblical scenes, and personal notes scribbled in the margins. There's a tactile component to the process of assembling memorablilia that is an essential part of the human experience. Technology is not only at odds with this experience, but even worse, can pose a real threat to it. In fact, I'll bet 10 Syquest cartridges that the technology on which your digital photos and videos are now stored will be obsolete within 20 years. With hand-compiled memory books, there is the potential to create something more enduring than a web gallery.
9. You'd mentioned earlier your choice to sell EveryBaby on Etsy. Why did you decide to go that specific route? Possible other options for the future?
Etsy is a great marketplace for anything made by hand. It's an online craft fair - with some of the awfulness that craft fairs can inspire - but at the same time, it's a high-end gallery of beautiful art objects. As a seller, I can't imagine a marketplace that would better target the full range of alternative families, while also allowing me to shirk the responsibility of building my own web site. Like many artisans who launch on Etsy, I hope to evolve into selling on my own site or in retail shops, such as the Paper Source.
10. Why did you choose Jewelboxing as your packaging? And can you tell us a little about the your design for the case?
I chose Jewelboxing because I wanted a case that would be durable and elegant enough to be presented as a gift. The EveryBaby cases were designed to look like hand-bound books, with kraft paper covers, bookcloth spines, and endpapers patterned with Hoefler ornaments. The Jewelboxing inserts allow space for a huge amount of information on the back, and I used all sides of the booklet for instructions and an extensive table of contents. I will also add loose beads, baby bracelets and birthday candles to the spines as little surprise gifts for buyers.
11. What's next for you? For the EveryBaby project?
As part of a self-imposed hiatus from client-directed projects, I'm going to spend the summer creating hand-bound binders, clipboards and folders to sell alongside the EveryBaby disks.